Friday, April 09, 2004

I have never cared much for poetry. Now, I'm well aware that it's because of a lack of exposure and education, but I've also never made any great effort to expose or educate myself. I find it frustrating to spend hours on a few lines of verse, especially when the meaning of it may not have been clear even to the poet. Also, like Tina in Tam Lin, I prefer to take poems literally--I have no reason to think that the man stopping by woods on a snowy evening is not simply a long way from home and bed. This is probably why I enjoy the poetry of Billy Collins so much, because his poems can be read simply and easily, as an evocative and beautiful picture, just as well as they can withstand scrutiny and study. I feel at home in his work, quiet and peaceful and comfortable.

Jack has a good post up about reading poetry, that it must be savored to be enjoyed. I agree completely, but I discovered a few days ago that one doesn't necessarily have to be in a quiet room alone, either. I had tucked Mr Collins's latest collection, Nine Horses, into my bag when I went up skiing last Sunday, and brought it out to read while I ate my lunch. Like most cafeterias, the one at Ski Santa Fe is large, loud, and dirty. I sat at a well-becrumbed table, surrounded by scruffy men eating chili cheese fries, and was utterly entranced by the poem "Love". It gave me chills, right there in that unlikely spot. I wish I could post the whole thing, but I'm afraid that would infringe copyright, so I'll just quote the last few stanzas.

"And the reason I am writing this
on the back of a manila envelope
now that they have left the train together

is to tell you that when she turned
to lift the large, delicate cello
onto the overhead rack,

I saw him looking up at her
and what she was doing
the way the eyes of saints are painted

when they are looking up at God
when he is doing something remarkable,
something that identifies him as God."

--Billy Collins, Nine Horses

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